“Hackcess to Justice” Legal Hackathons in 2014 and 2015


Image by Sebastiaan ter Burg


[This post was originally uploaded on August 14, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on February 15, 2015 and again on March 24, 2015.]

August 14, 2014 Post:

Last week, the American Bar Association held its 2014 annual meeting in Boston. Among many other events and presentations, was one called Hackcess to Justice, a two-day hackathon held at Suffolk School of Law. The goal was to produce tools and apps to enable greater access to legal services for people who otherwise might not be able to obtain assistance or legal representation. A number of these problems seeking technological solutions were first identified by the Legal Services Corporation. A fully detailed report was posted on ABAnet.org on August 8, 2014, entitled Winning Apps in ‘Hackcess to Justice’ Help Write Wills, Navigate Disasters and Calculate Jail Time.

Prize money was awarded to the first, second and third place winners. The winning entries were apps, respectively, for creating and distributing living wills and health care proxies; proving information and resources to people in natural disasters; and to determine eligibility for legal help in MA and to calculate the length of state prison terms.

Recently, there have been other legal hackathons around the US. Two of them include one held at Brooklyn Law School in April 2014 and another held MIT in June 2014.

I hope to see more of these events in the future as I anticipate that they will continue to produce interesting results potentially benefiting clients and attorneys alike. I also think it will be interesting to track whether any of the tools and apps resulting from these legal hackathons gain acceptance in the marketplace for legal services.

February 15, 2015 Update:

A new Hackcess to Justice legal hackathon will be held in New Orleans on March 21 and 22, 2015. It is being presented by the ABA Journal and the New Orleans Bar Association. The details and a link to the registration page appeared in an article on ABAnet.org on February 12,, 2015 entitled Registration Opens for Hackcess to Justice New Orleans, by Lee Rawles. The event will be held at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. Here is the link on the law school’s calendar to the event. The objectives, procedures and presentations appear to be very similar to the first Hackcess to Justice event held at Suffolk School of Law discussed above.

Once again, I am delighted to see another legal hackathon in the works. I believe that many tangible and positive results can come from such events for clients, law students, law schools, lawyers, bar associations, and the entire legal profession. My best wishes for its success in New Orleans and I hope to see these events spreading to other areas in the US and elsewhere.

March 24, 2015 Update:

A fanfare, please!

The top three winners of Hackcess to Justice competition (described in the February 15, 2015 post above), were announced on the Daily News page on the ABAJournal.com site yesterday, March 23, 2015. The article entitled Winning App at Hackess to Justice New Orleans Helps Clients Preserve Evidence, was written by Victor Li. I highly recommend clicking through and reading this for all of the details of these imaginative and innovative apps. It also has an embedded deck of tweets (with the links and hashtags remaining clickable), from the event that provide a vivid sense of this competition and the enthusiasm of its entrants.

Briefly summing up the top three winners:

  • First place went to an app called Legal Proof by a Omega Ortega LLC. This enables users to photograph documents and other evidence, generate metadata for it, and record additional relevant data.
  • Second place was awarded to attorneys William Palin and Ernie Svenson for a document generation app they call Paperless. This is designed specifically for legal aid attorneys to ascertain client eligibility, exchange legal documents, and transmit reminders concerning legal dates and issues.
  • Third place was won by a New Orleans non-profit called Operation Spark that promotes careers in software for young people. Their winning app is called ExpungeMe. This helps users to generate documents needed to prepare an expungement request without an attorney.

Massive amounts of congratulations to all of the winners!

Let’s continue to track these important events and the exciting new apps that are emerging from them.

Law School’s Innovative Efforts to Produce “Practice Ready” Lawyers


[This post was originally uploaded on January 6, 2015. It has been updated below with new information on February 19, 2015.]

With law school applications in a very steep decline, the number of legal jobs requiring a bar admittance shrinking steadily, clients not willing to pay for new associates’ time spent learning how to actually practice, and a growing number of legal services becoming more automated, law schools are making a variety of efforts to make their graduates more marketable. Simply stated, they are working to make them far more “practice ready” when they arrive at their new jobs than generations of law gads have traditionally been in the past.

Two previous Subway Fold posts have looked at this new marketplace environment from different perspectives. First, was a July 30, 2014 post entitled New Law School Courses Aim at Keeping Pace with Changing Times about classes in emerging areas of technology and policy, followed by a November 30, 2014 post entitled Does Being on Law Review or Effective Blogging and Networking Provide Law Students with Better Employment Prospects?  Another new and innovative approach was covered in the January 5, 2015 edition of The Wall Street Journal  entitled Law School’s Practical Side by Joe Palazzolo. The story was also summarized and excerpted here on the same day on the WSJ Law Blog by Jacob Gershman, as well as posted here in full on the University of New Hampshire School of Law (UNH Law) website.

To briefly sum up this story, selected students at students at UNH Law who are enrolled in the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program are given special courses and hands-on experience in the highly practical skills they will need as lawyers. For example, how to, as stated in the article “interview clients, take depositions, and draft motions and interrogatories”, all geared towards litigation practice. The school’s web site further itemizes these offerings wherein students “counsel clients, work with practicing lawyers, take depositions, appear before judges, create basic business documents and learn to negotiate and mediate.’

This program has been in operation for ten years and one study has shown these graduates do indeed perform better early on in their careers than other students who had not gone through the program. Quotes from several graduates in a variety of practices, including large firms, confirmed their perceived advantages after they began their first law jobs.

I believe this is a giant step in the right direction for the entire legal profession as well as for clients. Many law schools have offered such practical skills, clinics and internships for years, but UNH Law seems to have taken this up to a new and distinguished level.  What is not mentioned in the article or on the school’s web site is how much of this practical instruction includes training and experience with supporting legal technologies including, among others, project management, document assembly and predictive coding.

Moreover, I believe that the UNH Law approach in conjunction timely new syllabus offerings, enhanced networking skills, and hands-on projects with core legal technologies would, altogether, produce a bundle of complementary benefits.  Law students would more likely have then have most, if not all, of the resources to keep adapting to a quickly changing market for legal services.

February 19, 2015 Update

Designing and implementing innovative programs to assist in preparing law students to become “practice ready” is now gathering substantial new momentum at other US law schools. As an encouraging follow on story to The Wall Street Journal’s feature on the UNH School of Law’s Daniel Webster Scholars Program described above, now The New York Times has published a most interesting full-length article entitled Law Students Leave Torts Behind (for a Bit) and Tackle Accounting by Elizabeth Olson on February 12, 2015. I will summarize some of the main points of this new report about four law schools that are focusing their effort on business skills and concepts.

1. Brooklyn Law School is now offering students a 3-day intensive “boot camp” to acquaint them with the fundamentals of, among other topics, accounting, financial statements and asset valuation. This is driven by the realities of today’s market for legal services where more rote legal processes are being “outsourced and corporate budgets are cut back”. Brooklyn Law is attempting supplement their students’ education with real world business realities not widely found in traditional legal education curricula. These further include “teamwork, business strategy, client interaction”. The dean of the law school, Nicholas W. Allard, believes that the recent recession and resulting changes to the legal marketplace have now facilitated the need to teach the business skills such as those his school is now offering.

To prepare their program, Brooklyn Law worked with Deloitte Financial Advisory Services and Brooklyn Law alumni, John P. Oswald, who is on the top executives at Capital Trust Group. Deloitte had previously developed their own similar program for new associates at law firms. (This is in contrast to the inverse arrangements elsewhere in the corporate world as described in a September 17, 2014 Subway Fold Post entitled Law Firms and High Tech Companies are Now Providing Training to Their Respective Clients.)

2. Cornell University Law School has a similar program called Business Concepts for Lawyers. It was established last year following the February 2014 publication of a survey Harvard Law School of 124 employers. They were asked about the classes law student would need most for corporate and business practice. Almost half of Cornell Law’s graduates go on to work at large firms in these fields.

3. Francis King Carey School of Law at the University of Maryland has established a business law track student may choose to pursue. The number of graduates from it has increased significantly in the last three years. In addition, the school offers a 3-day “boot camp” for students to learn business basics and negotiation skills. As with Brooklyn Law, Deloitte also participates in this. Students appreciate the value of this because of it gives them a sense of experience they have not previously had.

The law school will also soon announce a one-year fellowship program where students will work with companies and be compensated.

4. University of Colorado Law School last summer began its own boot camp focused upon the provision of legal services called the Tech Lawyer Accelerator. It uses companies to instruct students on the use of legal technology. The first round drew 16 students which led to a “10-week internship with a technology company” to apply their newly acquired skills.

I will also add to this group a similar program here in New York at Cardozo Law School called the Cardozo Data Law Initiative, launched in 2014. This is a special track designed, according to their website “to prepare law students for careers” in “information governance, e-discovery, data privacy, social media law, and cybersecurity”. In addition to 11 core courses in these areas, the program places students in 8-week externships with organizations working in these fields.


Recent Conferences Addressing Changes and Innovation in the Legal Marketplace

During the past few months, I have had the opportunities to attend, either in person or by webcast, four conferences addressing the dramatic technological, business and service changes affecting all sectors of the legal market. The speakers have covered such topics as legal entrepreneurs, big data and analytics, project management, adding design elements law practice, enhancing law schools’ offerings with business and tech skills, collaboration methodologies and platforms, pricing models, expert systems, legal apps, addressing under-served markets for legal services, and ethical considerations posed by many of these changes. The links below contain videos of many of these presentations and offer an incisive window into how various innovators and their innovations are leading the way towards meeting these challenges.

  • Reinvent Law NYC held on February 7, 2014 at Cooper Union in New York is part of the ongoing series of Reinvent Law presentations being organized by the Reinvent Law Laboratory at Michigan State Law School. This show was standing room only on what was a very bitter cold day in NYC. IMHO, everyone involved in the production and presentation of this did an outstanding job of directly defining and addressing the current and future technological and business issues. Videos of some of the presentations from this and other Reinvent Law events are available on the site’s Reinvent Law Channel.
  • Disruptive Innovation in the Market for Legal Services was a day-long conference at Harvard Law School held on March 6, 2014 covering many of the same concerns. I found the concluding Q&A session with the last panel of speakers to be particularly compelling.
  • LegalScience.TV was a graduate seminar presented at MIT’s Media Lab on March 13, 2014. Many of the speakers focused on the more scientific and technological influences and innovations in law practice.
  • From Bleak House to Geek House: Evolving Law for Entrepreneurial Lawyers was another all day conference held last week at Brooklyn Law School on April 4, 2014. The details are clickable here and the videos are gathered here on YouTube.  Among a great many other things expertly covered by the speakers, was the changing needs of today’s legal education.

The next conference on many of these issues, themes and advances will be Codex Presents the Future of Law 2014 conference to be held at Stanford Law School on May 2, 2014. Here is the agenda of what sounds like a top flight lineup of speakers and their topics.